Healthcare acquired infections (HAIs)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ‘’on any given day, about one in 25 hospital patients has at least one healthcare-associated infection.’’
In 2014 the results of HAI Prevalence Survey revealed that in 2011 there were an estimated 722,000 HAIs in US acute care hospitals and about 75,000 patients with HAIs died during their hospitalisations.
These numbers sound horrific, especially considering that being related to hygiene and cleanness in the medical environment, they could have been easily prevented if the proper hygiene standards were maintained.
The high touch surfaces in the patient’s room
The various medical guidelines on hygiene best practice identify the most frequently touched objects or high-touched surfaces in the patient’s room, for example: bed rails, bed surface, supply carts, over‐bed table, remote controls.
Unfortunately, one of the most frequently touched surfaces in the healthcare environment - the hospital curtains, are often omitted from these lists. That means that hospital curtains are not a part of the patient room daily cleaning routine and become a perfect means of transmitting HAIs.
In The NHS Standard Infection Control Precautions Clinical Governance the hospital curtains are included in the ‘’Control of Environment’’ section and the guidelines state:
‘’The healthcare setting, in particular, contains a diverse population of microorganisms and this must be considered when caring for those who are susceptible to infection.
Although potentially pathogenic microorganisms can be detected in air, water and on surfaces, determining their role in infection can be difficult. It must be considered that contamination of all patient/resident/client environments will occur and must, therefore, be controlled.
The transfer of microorganisms from environmental surfaces to patients/clients is largely considered to be via direct (hand) contact with these surfaces.
As a consequence, hand hygiene is paramount in reducing infection spread via this route as well as the appropriate control of the environment.’’
How often are hospital curtains changed or cleaned?
Although the hospital curtains are one of the most touched surfaces in the patient's room, they tend to be forgotten during the daily cleaning routine.
The already mentioned NHS Standard Infection Control Precautions Clinical Governance states that for parts of the environment, which include hospital curtains, the cleaning should be undertaken when:
- the environment is visibly dirty, e.g. contamination with dust, soilage
- immediately when spillages occur
Since there are no specific recommendations for how often the hospital curtains should be cleaned, procedures may vary significantly from institution to institution.
One experiment conducted to find out how quickly hospital curtains can attract harmful bacteria revealed that 92% fresh curtains showed contamination with potentially pathogenic bacteria within just 1 week.
Reading comments on some popular forums, like these ones from Reddit, under the thread ''How often are the privacy CURTAINS changed in the hospital you work at? They seem FOUL and a potential source for nosocomial infections.''...
''this is also a very concerning topic, and interesting to think about. the clinical i'm working on I've never seen nor heard of the curtains being changed, and never thought twice about it. crazy to think about how much still needs to be done in terms of making the rooms hygienic and safe.''
''One of many examples of how we really aren't protecting anyone with isolation precautions. If we really cared about preventing transmission of these things, we would change out the curtains and swab the employees for MRSA. Gowning and gloving is just for show.
My hospital doesn't change the curtains, even in isolation rooms. If they become visibly soiled, it's like pulling teeth to get them changed. Had a patient vomit on a shower curtain once, took 3 phone calls to get the shower curtain taken down. No clue if it was ever replaced.''
... it becomes obvious that hospital curtains are widely neglected and changed only a few times a year in some places (link).
Why are hospital curtains so neglected?
The article ''Reducing HAIs: Awareness, Cleaning and Replacement of Cubicle CurtainsThe'' on InfectionControlTips.com, describes main reasons for hospital curtains cleaning negligence as follows:
‘’Cubicle curtains are proven to be a major source of infection risk, but cleaning, laundering or disposing of these curtains is often forgotten due to lack of time or understaffing issues (Lybert, 2016).
Laundering cubicle curtains takes time for the removal, washing and reinstallation, which is often done by a dedicated cleaning staff or even sometimes hospital staff. New ideas such as disposable cubicle curtains can help reduce this time problem.
One article states that, “health care workers often say grabbing a wipe and wiping off gurney railings is about all that time allows. With this in mind, using surfaces that can be disposed easily or cleaned effectively is critical,” (Lybert, 2016).
Cubicle curtains are not often viewed as dirty unless seen on the fabric: “Privacy curtains are frequently touched by caregivers and thus can become contaminated, particularly at the edges.
Curtains are not always cleaned until they are visibly soiled,” which poses an additional risk in health care facilities as viruses and bacteria cannot be detected by the naked eye, (Stroupe, 2010).
Even though these facts are well-known, some healthcare facilities are still not maintaining, disinfecting and replacing damaged or disease-spreading items as is necessary.’’
In nutshell, the hardships with cleaning hospital curtains are:
- Hospital curtains are soft surface touch points that can often be overlooked in facility cleaning procedures
- Understaffing and lack of time
- Burdensome process for correct and consistent cleaning - it takes time for the removal, washing and reinstallation of the large bulky hospital curtains
So what is the solution?
One of the many uses of KwickScreen portable room partitions is infection control. KwickScreen medical privacy screen have only two visible touch-points and its smooth screen surface is easy to clean by steaming or wiping.
If needed the screen can also be replaced or disposed. It makes cleaning of KwickScreens less labour intensive and an ideal alternative for infamous hospital curtains.
Moreover, KwickScreen improves infection control, by isolating infected patients who are known to have, or are at risk of, an infection, but at the same time without having to move them and stigmatising them. Also, the screen creates a psychological barrier which improves hand hygiene compliance and prevents cross-bed traffic.
KwickScreen for healing and infection control
KwickScreens are available in a variety of finishes: with the choice to pick one’s own print, opaque, translucent or transparent for better observation. The replaceable inner screen allows for the high level of personalisation depending on one’s needs.
The favourite option among the healthcare facilitators is the printed screen with an artwork. The soothing and colourful images have a positive impact on subconsciousness, accelerate healing and keep patients engaged and open for conversation.
''Most people think of surfaces as part of the design and construction process and not as part of an infection prevention and control program. When selecting materials, a lot of focus tends to be given to colours and textures that create “a healing environment.”
Although these aspects of a surface material are certainly important, there are many other surface properties that are of critical importance, yet are not thought about or given proper evaluation. In order for an environment to be “healing” it need to also not introduce the potential for detrimental effects, like infections.
After all, the most soothing colour and texture is of little value to a surface that cannot be cleaned or disinfected properly. Ironically, surfaces are often cleaned and disinfected based on visual inspection, even though it is commonly understood that microbes cannot be seen.''
Incorporating art into healthcare environments can significantly improve patient wellbeing and assist with the recovery process. Not surprisingly health professionals choose the printed KwickScreens with an artwork - better healing and infection control in one facility.
Another important application of KwickScreen is to provide privacy & dignity and to solve the problem of single sex ward breaches.
As mentioned before it is beneficial to separate patients without having to move them to side rooms, doesn’t make them psychologically cut off from the fellow patients, but still manages to create a feeling of their own space and comfort on a busy hospital ward.
Last but not least, KwickScreen is intuitive, durable and practical in the hospital environment. It’s easy to install. It’s light and easy to move - a single nurse can wheel it from storage to the patient. It retracts and can be stored with a small footprint, leaving more space in the storage rooms.